Sean Kelly’s Top of the Mic: Band vs. Solo


Buzz about Sean Kelly’s Top of the Mic contest moves from mouth to ear at the local coffee shop, The Break Espresso.

Dan Dubuque takes a seat with his drip-filled coffee mug when Annalisa Ingegno of the band The Hasslers comes to the table and congratulates Dan. He, in turn, congratulates Annalisa, and she discusses being “super excited” that The Hasslers are on stage tonight. Dan shows the same fervor and Annalisa says, “I wish I could beat my fiddle like you do your guitar.”

The Hasslers are in the early stages of performance and according to Annalisa; the band has only been together for three months. Tonight will be their second performance to an audience. Dubuque is astonished. The Hasslers consist of Analisa Ingegno on fiddle, Matt Hassler on banjo/harmonica/guitar, Ben Levin on drums, Ben Harper on bass, and electric/acoustic guitarist Matt Bush. The musicians play originals written by Matt Hassler.

When you hear The Hasslers, you think of Charlie Daniels Band engaging in a new jacked-up rock sound, using today’s triple-shot, high-octane caffeine to their advantage, which gives The Hasslers an edge that is very unusual. Matt’s voice is bluesy with a mixture of grinding and a slight tap of vibrato. Annalisa’s and Ben’s strong harmonizing voices compliment Matt’s. All performers show a strong flirt, play, and make love attitude to the audience with engaging expression.

Every band member from The Hasslers sing and put on a show in their own unique individual style. They don’t look like they would know each other, one spectator even states, “They don’t even look like they would associate in the same crowds.”

The very eclectic group makes the patrons of Sean Kelly’s a stomping bunch while performing Irish Jig “Bedside Manner.” During the rock number called “Necromancers Waltz” instrumental sounds stop abruptly with all of them singing several measures acappella, then a hard instrumental start-up with all band members right on key, in-sync, and their timing impeccable.

Matt Hassler competed in Sean Kelly’s Open Mic Contest last year. Back then he was a solo show. Hassler says, “I was through with doing it all by myself. The band emerged from Craigslist and then spurred on. After doing it as a one man band, it’s nice to share.”

Sounds coming out the doors of Sean Kelly’s Top of the Mic night last Thursday are not unusual to Missoula; however the unique sound of the instrument played is.

The man with the German Weissenborn slide guitar can be seen at the Holiday, Red Bird, Monte Dolack Art Gallery, and the Farmer’s Market. Dan Dubuque plays this form of Hawaiian slide guitar along with the Churango a mandolin/ukulele that is a native instrument his mother brought him from Bolivia. Passersby and patrons stop to watch and listen.

Dan Dubuque and his Weissenborn slide guitar

Fans roll into Sean Kelly’s during Dan Dubuque’s performance. Dubuque steps up to Sean Kelly’s Irish flag-draped stage and places the instrument on his lap. He pulls out of his pocket a weighty silver metal piece and puts it in palm of his hand. He rests his index finger on the top and surrounds the sides to accomplish the music he pulls out of the slide guitar. Gleam from the red overhead spotlight reflects off of the slide. When the tip of the metal lifts up off the strings it looks like an inflamed branding iron just pulled from the fire.

The Weissenborn sounds like a drum, electric guitar, mandolin, cello, bass, and acoustic guitar all at the same time. His other hand becomes a bird’s beak pecking at the strings being fed with the sound coming out of the instrument. Electric sounds are the back notes and with each down beat of the drum he throws his head back. Elements of Blues, Soul, Rock, R&B, Funk, African, Eastern, Native American, and Hip-Hop project out.

After Dan’s performance forty people start gathering in a semi-circle four rows deep from right stage all the way to Mike Avery’s sound equipment clearly stopping by to support The Hasslers. Avery, observing the crowd, sees the possibility of Dubuque’s instruments getting kicked around. With respect for Dan and his instruments, Avery moves Dan’s cases lying by the sound equipment next to the wall, protecting them from the patrons.

The man who motivated Dan Dubuque to play the Weissenborn is Ben Harper. “Friends asked me to go to a concert at The Gorge a few years back to see Ben Harper” “I thought sure, why not. When I heard Ben Harper play a slide guitar—that was it!” Dan paused a moment and flashes his white teeth, dimpled smile and proclaims, “He blew my mind, dude!”

Dan then bought Harpers albums and watched his videos and thought to himself, “How am I going to get that guitar?” It took Dubuque four years after that concert to get his Weissenborn.

Dan Dubuque's Weissenborn slide guitar

Dubuque played with a Dobro for a bit, but the sound is too Country, too twang for him. Dan’s roots reside in Grunge: Nirvana, Tool, and Soundgarden with a hard-core center, based in power. The hard-core center derives from Pantera and Metallica which allows him the freedom to incorporate the newer edgier Techno Indie sound from songs like Pumped up Kicks by Foster the People or bands like Nine Inch Nails and the Gorillaz. To take it further, every bit of influence is in the blues according to Dan. “Blues is in the metal.” Dubuque states, “Blues is in everything.”

Working with the slide guitar Dubuque tries to meld a “perfect, soft touch with simplicity” and then add the metal. “It is so easy to rage, and get down on my instrument.”

That doesn’t make a musician to Dan, what does is mastering that “soft touch.” His inspiration for that is Keith Richards’s use of five-string tuning. Dan wants to incorporate Richards’s soft touch with Jimi Hendrix’s wild edge. The Weissenborn allows him to do just that, due to the hollow neck and the Australian wood known as Yellow Siris. If the wood on the guitar is birch, according to Dan, “it sounds more like a thump and not a good solid beat.”

Dubuque wants to play for a band and yet he describes himself as a loner. “I am jealous of normal people and normal conversation. I wish I could be normal—lonelier the brave man. I am straight-up a loner and not proud of it. Am I making it harder on myself? I don’t know that. I hope I am not. I was a broke joke.”

Dan doesn’t want to be that, and struggles inwardly about working alone versus wanting to be part of a band. On the money making end of things, he does better at the breweries and markets playing solo. Dubuque states, “At the Farmer’s Market, I belong. I have higher goals than that, but it’s a good way to start the day.”

Dan Dubuque and his Weissenborn slide guitar

Mike Avery contemplates Dubuque playing in a solid band with his uniqueness being an asset and says, “I can see Dan with an additional drum set, and a native flute.” Mike lifts his hands to mime flute playing, drops his arms and states, “He could do it. He could play in a band, adapt.”

The Boardwalk in Venice Beach, California and Manhattan’s Central Park run were not kind to Dubuque. After three years, due to his admitted naiveté, and not having an amplifier, he came back to his family roots in Montana completely broke. Dan says, “It was painful because the music was calling me so hard.”

Dan plans to make another run of it after this summer in Missoula. The towns to hit: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, and another run in New York.

Dan says, “My big goal, what I really want, is to be in a band and jam. . . I want to open up for Ben Harper. I want him to see what I can do. You can’t live in Montana and be a serious musician. Well, The Decemberists made it, but they left, too.”


The next Top of the Mic show at Sean Kelly’s will be on Thursday, April 12. 


Missoula writer Leisa Greene Nelson

Call her a big city girl at heart, finding and satiating that appetite in the city of Missoula. Born in Butte and raised in Missoula, she is fascinated by people and looks for interesting characters to write about.  Everyone has a story to tell, or not, but the people and places in Missoula are unique.

Moving fast in life (for that big city feel) Leisa’s passions bounce around music, theater, food, art, family, and  friends that’s supported by an IV line of dark roasted coffee. Single and a recent graduate from the University of Montana with a BA in Creative Writing, she learned what it was like to be a co-ed in her 40s.

She currently works as an Office Manager at Inter-State Studio and Publishing, working on school photos and yearbooks. Her personal life and nightlife is where she discovers and creates creative non-fiction stories. She has four supportive, loving children:  Dustin, Michael, Jalynn, and Mark (adopted through marriage to Dustin) who are all artistically creative in writing, theater, dance, and singing.  Leisa likes to think she moves faster than they do.